December 31, 2011

Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  Ecclesiastes 12:13

My mom forwarded me this interesting set of photographs by Alex Wypyszinski, taken in Yellowstone in 2010. You might title it Bear v. Bison.

As you can see, the bison doesn’t look so good. Rangers examining the photos later confirmed that it probably fell into one of Yellowstone’s scalding thermal pools (I mentioned in a previous post that bison like to gather near the boiling water to soak up the warmth, and sometimes slip in). The poor animal’s legs and flank show red, raw skin where its fur had been burned away.

The two animals apparently paid no attention to the photographer, who jumped into his car to escape the stampede. The pair rushed passed him at a good clip, but as they reached the tree line by the side of the road, they each veered off in different directions.

Rangers found the injured bison the following day, and put it out of its misery. Some of the comments posted with the photos took issue with that, but as one person put it, “As incredibly tough as bison are, this particular animal was destined to die from infection after days of suffering or predation…Letting nature take its course may sound nice to some folks, but I’m just not into watching an animal suffer needlessly.”

But I found this to be the best comment: “I bet he thought he was the luckiest buffalo ever after outrunning a grizzly, only to get shot the following day. That’s what I call having a bad week.”

Life, like nature, can be messy, both beautiful and terrible at times, full of bad days, bad weeks, bad months, bad years. Even Solomon, to whom God gave a wise and discerning heart unlike any other (1 Kings 3:5-12), couldn’t figure out all of life’s ups and downs; he admits his wisdom only enabled him to see them more clearly (Ecclesiastes 1:18).

The entire book of Ecclesiastes is Solomon’s contemplation of life’s frustrations (1:4-11, 3:1-8). He questions why the lack of justice (4:1-3), and the futility of work, political success, pleasure, wealth (chapters 4 and 5) and ultimately, of wisdom itself: “I tested all this with wisdom, and I said, ‘I will be wise,’ but it was far from me…I concluded that man cannot discover the work which has been done under the sun. Even though man should seek laboriously, he will not discover; and though the wise man should say, ‘I know,” he cannot discover” (7:23, 8:17).

Ecclesiastes can seem like a real downer, bookended with the chorus of  “Vanity of Vanities! All is vanity” (1:2, 12:8), with more talk of vanity in between. Add in world-weary phrases like, “That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So, there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9), and the book seems to promote an almost helpless or meaningless outlook.

Perhaps not quite what you’d expect from the Bible, except…God is there, right in the middle of it.

The one thing Solomon could wrap his mind around was that the world would be a real bummer if it were not for Him. God Himself ordains the continual cycle of life events, he discovered, “appoint[ing] a time for everything” and giving us an eternal perspective, so that while we won’t always understand all of life’s mysteries, we can look beyond them (3:11). And we can find joy along the way: “Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one’s labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward…For he will not often consider the years of his life, because God keeps him occupied with the gladness of his heart” (5:18, 20).

As we head into 2012, my prayer is that we’ll be renewed by enjoying life as a gift (2:24), while offering due reverence to God (12:13), the greatest Giver of all (John 3:16).

A terrific prescription for a great new year!

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